Mind the signs

As a new school year begins, authorities remind drivers to watch their speed and refrain from using cell phones while in school zones.

Monday marks the start of a new school year for many students in area districts and with that in mind, police are reminding drivers to exercise caution in school zones.

While the flashing yellow lights surrounding schools have been turned off all summer, they’ll be lit up Monday, which, according to police, means drivers need to watch their speed and put down the cell phones.

“We have a low tolerance in school zones, I will tell you that,” said Gainesville Public Information Officer Sgt. Bobby Balthrop.

Balthrop said the posted speed limit in most school zones is 20 miles per hour and that he expects an increased amount of officers to patrol school zones as drivers re-adjust to lowered speed limits and increased congestion.

“I’m sure we will pick up efforts, especially in the beginning of the school year,” he said.

Gainesville ISD Superintendent Bill Gravitt said many parents like to drop off and pick up their children at the beginning of the school year, which amounts to more traffic.

Gainesville’s backlog hotspot, he said, is around Edison Elementary, where congestion from the drop-off zone can overflow into the street and up the block. Gravitt said parents rushing to get through the line have contributed to minor fender benders in the past.

“Take your time to the point where you drop them off, and then drop them off,” Gravitt said. “Pay attention and slow down.”

Drivers in that area should also be aware of Edison’s crossing guard, who Gravitt reminds drivers they must obey.

“We’d sure like people to pay attention to what she tells them and we just want to really make sure none of the youngsters get hurt,” he said.

Since most students are heading to school around 7:30 a.m., and leaving around 3 p.m. on Gainesville’s campuses, drivers should be cautious throughout the day, but especially around these times.

“Make sure they’re watching out for children darting out,” Balthrop said.

Part of watching out, he added, is that cell phone use, as posted on school zone signs in Gainesville, is prohibited under state law.

Balthrop said this should come as no surprise to Gainesville residents since the city had the same ordinance before the law was passed.

Hanging up the phone and refraining from texting, Gravitt and Balthrop agreed, will prevent accidents and injuries to students.

“Anything that will reduce the distraction will increase the safety in those areas,” Balthrop said.

Gravitt also reminds drivers to use caution around school buses.

GISD transports about 1,800-1,900 students to and from school each day on its 25 buses and Gravitt said driver’s should watch for students crossing the street while boarding or exiting a bus.

“That’s probably the most dangerous time,” he said, adding that anytime a bus has flashing red lights and extends its stop sign, drivers should prepare to stop and keep back about 300-400 feet.

“The main thing people need to understand is they have to slow down,” he said.